What is 3d printer exactly

best 3D printer under 300 refers to any manufacturing process which additively builds or forms 3D parts in layers from CAD data. The technology is significant because it offers direct manufacturing, meaning a design goes directly from you to physical product through a computer and a printer. Let’s break it down further.

how 3D printing works starts with a digital file derived from computer aided design (CAD) software. Once a design is completed, it must then be exported as a standard tessellation language (STL) file, meaning the file is translated into triangulated surfaces and vertices. The STL file then has to be sliced into hundreds – sometimes thousands – of 2-D layers (Fig.1). A 3D printer then reads the 2-D layers as building blocks which it layers one atop the other, thus forming a three dimensional object. All design files, regardless of the 3D printing technology, are sliced into layers before printing. Layer thickness – the size of each individual layer of the sliced design – is determined partly by technology, partly by material, and partly by desired resolution and your project timeline; thicker layers equates to faster builds, thinner layers equate to finer resolution, less visible layer lines and therefore less intensive post-processing work (Fig.2). After a part is sliced, it is oriented for build.


Orientation refers to how and which direction a part is placed on the 3D printing build platform. For example, a part may be oriented at an angle, or lying flat/ standing vertical. Similar to CNC machining, orientation factors into the outcome of surfaces and details on a what is 3D printer exactly part. Because 3D printing builds one 2-D layer at a time, the individual lines appear as ribbed surfaces on parts. Downward facing surfaces usually reveal more layer lines. Certain build orientations are better for curved or square features while delicate features require special consideration. Technologies with higher instances of warp (or material deformation) must account for large flat surfaces during build orientation. It is critical to consider these factors because how a part is oriented determines where supports are added – or needed – within the build. Supports are a huge factor for 3D printing, and can affect material finish and accuracy of a 3D printed part.


Most 3D printing processes require support structures to act as “scaffolding” for features that can’t be built above open air, such as overhangs, undercuts, holes, cavities, etc. Where supports are required largely depends on the material, build process (3D print technology) and build resolution (layer thickness), among other factors. Support structures are usually made using the same or similar material as the final build and are removed after the model cures. We will delve deeper into why technologies require supports – and which ones do not – once we break out into individual 3D printing processes.

3D Printing in a Nutshell

Let’s recap: 3D printing, regardless of process, takes a 3D CAD file, slices it into 2-D layers, and additively builds up a part 2-D layer by 2-D layer. 3D printing is significant because it changes the way we think about manufacturing.

We’ve detailed why 3D printing is viewed as a game-changer for manufacturing in the next section, including how 3D printing has changed prototyping and production through cost, lead time and design freedom.